To music fans of a certain age, The Toy Dolls are Sunderland’s finest export, full stop.
Formed in 1979, they were a far cry from your average angry, politically-motivated, anti-establishment punk band of the time.
Their songs were about the place where they lived and the people they knew, and they brought a sense of fun to what was becoming a very serious scene indeed.
Most people will remember them with their cover of the ‘50s children’s song Nellie The Elephant, but there’s much more to The Toy Dolls than that, as this 5CD boxset reminds us.
After being championed by Sounds scribe Garry Bushell they were sometimes lumped in with the Oi! movement, helped (or hindered?) by the fact they had two tracks included on the controversial Strength Thru Oi! compilation.
Others labelled them punk pathetique, alongside the likes of Splodgenessabounds, Peter And The Test Tube Babies, The Adicts, and Bushell’s own band, The Gonads.
It kicks off with their excellent 1983 debut album Dig That Groove, which includes such classics as the title track, the aforementioned Nellie, Dougy Giro, Spiders In The Dressing Room, and Fiery Jack (“Fiery Jack, Fiery Jack, it’s red hot on your back, Fiery Jack, Fiery Jack, believe me, it does knack”).
There’s also the first of their absurdly-titled local-referencing songs, Queen Alexandra Road Is Where She Said She’d Be, But Was She There To Meet Me…No Chance.
It’s enormous fun from start to finish, and laid the template for a career which still sees frontman Olga and the latest incarnation of the group play occasional gigs today.
Disc two is the 1985 follow-up A Far Out Disc, which includes what for me are some of the band’s best songs; She Goes To Finos, the sublime Carol Dodds Is Pregnant (“she is getting fat, her belly’s got a lump in it, Keith must have done that, you never see him now”, My Girlfriend’s Dad’s A Vicar and Florence Is Deaf (But There’s No Need To Shout).
They were nothing if not prolific, and 1986 saw the release of third album Idle Gossip – like the first two, on North East label Volume Records.
Although not as catchy as its predecessors, it featured the single Geordie’s Gone To Jail, their last release to reach the then-influential Indie Chart. Other highlights include You Won’t Be Merry On A North Sea Ferry, and the tongue-twisting If You’re In A Pop Group You’ll End Up Paying A Fortune Practising At Peter Practice’s Practice Place.
1987 brought yet another album, Bare Faced Cheek, and more classics: Yul Brynner Was A Skinhead (which Olga described as “the only good song on it”), Fisticuffs In Frederick Street and The Ashbrooke Launderette…
The last disc is a unique-to-this compilation called Rare Dolls. It gathers singles, tracks from compilations and alternate versions of songs such as Deidre’s A Slag, but the real gem is the original 7” versions of debut single Tommy Kowey’s Car and She Goes To Finos.
It’s a real punk rarity, as only 500 copies were pressed and one recently sold for £400 - more than the songs cost to record!
All in all, this is a superb set for anyone who loved The Toy Dolls, or even has a passing interest in them, as it’s full of laugh-out-loud lyrics and some of the finest riffs you’ll hear courtesy of Olga.
Who said punk can’t make you smile? 9/10.